Most peaceful peoples focus on raising their children to adopt their nonviolence, much as more violent societies emphasize the importance of teaching aggressiveness and the inevitability of warfare. Some of the small-scale, peaceful groups have problems, however, melding their traditional socialization strategies, which teach their youth to uphold proper moral and social values, with the obvious advantages that come from a good, formal, Western education. With the former they will be able to maintain and perpetuate their societies; with the latter the young people will be better equipped to deal with the dominating national and international cultures.
Both are essential, and all of these small-scale societies have to deal with the issue of blending them. But how to adapt to the best of the outside, yet preserve the best of the inside? A couple Philippine news stories over the past two weeks show how a Buid community has been developing new educational ventures that seek to teach Western subjects as well as preserve their own culture.
The story started with Buid elder Laki Iwan, who died two years ago at the age of 90. His life was celebrated in the Philippine press because he had been a leader in founding schools in his community, building them on his own lands in the village. According to the recent updates to the story, one of the schools he helped to found, which caters to the indigenous Mangyan people of Mindoro Island, including the Buid, is thriving. It now enrolls 48 students from Kindergarten to grade three.
The occasion for the press reports was the observance of World Literacy Day on September 8 in the Buid village. According to one news account, the Buid, with the involvement of the other Mangyan peoples, established their non-formal education program in October 1999. It was launched during a Mangyan Week celebration in the school donated by Laki Iwan in Barangay Danlog, the place where he died in 2006.
Subjects in the school are taught in the Buid language, and the instructors use the traditional alphabet of that society, the surat Buhid, as their mode of teaching. The goals of the traditional school, in the words of one of the articles, are “to promote the protection and preservation of Mangyan culture, and likewise, [to provide] free education to Mangyan children.” The school seeks to teach history, math, English, and other Western subjects, but in the context of their own cultures and beliefs.
The traditional Buid people did not easily accept the need for schooling the children. They realized that their youngsters might learn about the works of Shakespeare but remain unfamiliar with their own traditional ambahan poetry, which is preserved in their ancient, written language. Children could attend school and come to see their culture as inferior to that of the West, and Western education as superior to their own ways. Despite the fact that many people have converted to Christianity, the Buid still hold on to many of their traditions.
During the celebrations last week, the Buid recalled how some of their young people had gotten Western educations and then become too good for their traditional communities. The village elders would be happy when their young people finished college. In the words of Luisito Malanao, one of the school teachers, while the elders “were happy for some of ours who have finished college courses, they were also disappointed over the influence of modern civilization [on] some of these educated Mangyans that made them abandon the native culture.”
They would hesitate to return to their native villages in the mountains due to the mud and the dirty family members. They hated the thought of sleeping in common rooms in their small houses with the rest of their families. But Mr. Malanao, admitting the disappointment within the Buid communities about the ways some of their children had turned out, still concluded that “we cannot afford to stay ignorant and exploited all our lives.”
Another Mangyan school teacher, Alma Agular, echoed his sentiments. “We have to embrace basic education without going to schools where we are discriminated [against due to] being Mangyans by lowlanders who dominate these learning institutions,” she said. Several years ago, the people decided to formalize their style of traditional schooling within the purview of the Philippine educational system. With the support of some non-governmental organizations and local Department of Education officials, in 2005 the community launched a program called PAMANAKA (Paaralang Mangyan Na-Angkop sa Kulturang Aalagaan).
The program officially recognized a kindergarten and an elementary school curriculum for the Buid and other Mangyan students. It emphasized traditional values and approaches. The Buid school had originally been built in a traditional style, with cogon and bamboo—good ventilation and a natural learning environment. The newer approach, however, has been to build permanent classroom buildings, with the support of Plan Philippines, Inc., a member of Plan International, the worldwide NGO which is devoted to community development with a primary focus on improving the lives of children.
Plan Philippines has supported other Mangyan schools in the area, in addition to the PAMANAKA Buid school. It not only gives money for constructing new school buildings, it also provides supplies for the Mangyan-oriented curricula, such as books and materials for the teachers and children. An official at Plan Philippines told a reporter that his group is helping over 2,000 Mangyan school children on Mindoro. He expressed a great deal of pleasure in the fact that they assist the PAMANAKA school in the Buid village.